14Oct

Oh Seoul – South Korea’s biggest city, home to cute cafes, streets lined with K-pop merch, and endless things to do – I love you. Although I lived across the country from Seoul, it is so well connected to the rest of the country that it made frequent visits from my home in Busan a breeze. There are so many things to do in Seoul that it can seem overwhelming to plan a trip there, especially if it’s only for a few days. Thankfully, though Seoul is a sprawling city,  the metro/bus system is SO superior, and you can be all the way across the city in an hour or less. This makes fitting everything you want to do into a few days not as intimidating as you would expect, especially if you group all the things you want to do into blocs by proximity.

I’ve been to Seoul a few times, and here’s a list of what I believe to be the best things to do in Seoul – and some things that I have done that were ~fine~ but not my fav – But I’ll include pictures of even these so you can at least have everything in one place in case we have different tastes or ideas of fun! It’s a choose your own adventure kind of day over here at Emma’s Daydream.

Visit a Palace

Seoul has 5 palaces in total, but if you only have time for one, the best option is Gyeongbokgung Palace. The grounds are enormous, and its very centrally located smack in the northern middle part of the city. If you rent a Hanbok – a traditional Korean outfit worn on special occasions – your entry ticket is free! Plan on spending an hour and a half here to make sure that you hit everything!

Changdeokgung Palace is still on my list, but I’m waiting til the summer to visit until the secret gardens are in full bloom. If that sounds like something that would interest you, or you’re visiting in the Spring or summer, be sure to book a tour, as that’s the only way you can see these secret gardens.

Walk Around a Hanok Village

One of the best things to do in Seoul is to visit the Bukchon Hanok Village. When my friend and I got off the metro stop near the Hanok village, we looked at each other in confusion. Were we even still in the city? It was so quiet, the skyscrapers and packed buildings of the concrete jungle seemed to be so far in the distance. A Hanok is a traditional Korean house/style of architecture, and smack in the middle of Seoul is a beautiful neighborhood that has preserved all of the Hanoks that were there as the city originally started to take shape. It’s definitely a hike of a walk through the village, and we kept to the main street and looped around to the left. The views are gorgeous, but our favorite part of the whole experience was that we stopped to cool off and rest our feet at THIS tea house. We ordered the iced flower tea (INCREDIBLE) and a sweet red bean bingsu – but only because they were out of Mango Bingsu. Bingsu is a sort of milky shaved ice with different toppings, it’s so refreshing and such a classic thing to eat in South Korea. This tea house had a gorgeous garden in the center with picture windows panning out to views of the mountains. It was a secluded escape from the city, one that I would recommend a thousand times over.

The second time I went, we started our day by stopping at Onion cafe – a hanok style cafe that’s right by Bukchon Hanok village – before we started our tour of the village. After we had gotten our fill of sightseeing, we stopped by the Asian culture museum of art for a cup of hot tea and to enjoy their rooftop – a gorgeous vantage point from which you can see all the hanok roofs as well as some of the city in the distance.

A lot of people choose to rent Hanboks here as well – and if that sounds like something that interests you there are plenty of rentals at the start of the Hanok Village. Speaking of Hanboks….

Wear a Hanbok

You can’t go to Seoul and not wear a Hanbok – whether you choose to do this at Gyeongbokgung Palace or the Hanok village, its not a want, it’s a NEED. Renting a Hanbok is not only an incredible photo-op, but it’s so cheap. A lot of places even give foreigners discounts or do their hair for free because it is so special to them that we participate and appreciate their culture! I’ve had a few people ask me about cultural appropriation, but it’s not seen as anything even close to that here. It is encouraged with the discounted entrance fees, and it was an honor to wear. I wore a Hanbok over the Korean Thanksgiving holiday weekend, when everyone was out and about in their Hanboks too, and it was a really special experience.

They typically go anywhere from 10,000 won to 15,000 won for two hours – which when converted to USD is less than 15 dollars max. You get to choose your skirt as well as your top, your hairpieces, your bag, a locker for the rest of your things, everything! I got my hair done, chose a Hanbok in my favorite color, and had myself the best day ever.

Starfield Library – Coex Mall

There’s really no good reason to come here other than the crazy photo ops- most of the books are written in Korean, so unless that’s your jam, you’re probably out of luck. There are 50,000 books in this library/book store, and it’s unlike any Barnes and Noble I’ve ever been to. In true Korean fashion, the sheer magnitude of the bookshelves are mainly just for show and serve no practical purpose. Like….how do you even get to the books at the top??

I came by myself the first, and the amount of times I went up and down these escalators trying to get the perfect shot with my tripod and self timer is actually so laughable. I had a fun time though, and I’m such a book lover that I loved just wandering around, getting a starbucks coffee (they have a store inside the library) and just staring for a good 30 minutes. If you happen to be there during the winter, the Christmas decorations are insane and add to the overall magical atmosphere, but they also decorate for every season so don’t be disappointed if your trip falls over the summer.

It’s truly gorgeous!

While you’re at it, go shopping, the mall is really big and has lots of awesome options.

Visit a Themed Cafe

Cafe culture in Korea is absolutely insane. There are cafes on just about every street, selling their own unique spins on the classics, serving up signature drinks and handmade cakes, and drawing in locals and tourists alike by committing to a theme. There are themed cafes all over Korea, but Seoul is the best place to go to find a themes cafe, as it is definitely the epicenter of it all.

While in Seoul, you have quite a few to choose from! The Pink Pool Cafe, The Cave Cafe, the Poop Cafe, the 2D cafe, the Harry Potter cafe….. your options are quite literally endless! Pick your poison, take some crazy photos, and fuel up for the rest of your sightseeing.

 

Go Shopping in Myeongdong

Whether or not you’re in need of new clothes or not, I recommend you stay in the Myeongdong area during your time in Seoul. It is the most central out of all the locations, and all the other neighborhoods of Seoul are easily accessible by subway. Myeongdong is known for it’s shopping streets, and if you’re looking to try out K-beauty this is the place to be! I’ve only been to Seoul during the pandemic, so the vibes were way less crazy than normal, but I’ve heard that pre-COVID Myeongdong was absolutely the place to be, especially during the evening.

Also in Myeongdong is one of the iconic Stylenanda flagship stores, where its 7 stories of pure pink hotel themed goodness, clothes, and photo ops.

 

Ikseon-Dong

One of the best things to do in Seoul, and my personal favorite, is to spend half a day in Ikseon-Dong. It is also a hanok village, but instead of it being residential, it has been converted into one of the chicest shopping and dining centers that I’ve ever seen. The mix of the old, vintage Hanoks with the trendy restaurants and boutique Jewelry stores is an unmatched dynamic. We indulged in souffle pancakes and Shabu Shabu and it was honestly the highlight of my entire trip. I mean, just LOOK at these streets. When we first took a bite of our pancakes, my friend Victoria said, “I’m going up and making out with the woman who made these” if that tells you anything about our experience.

If you go, I recommend Flippers for the pancakes, Madang flower cafe or Cafe Highwaist for the aesthetics, Water Meal or Saladaeng Bankok for a gorgeous meal, and Ocheneonjip for an incredible Korean meal that will blow your mind.

 

Lotte World Tower

While one of the pricier things to do in Seoul at 27, 000 won a pop (25 ish dollars) the Lotte world tower is the highest point in Seoul, and definitely something that you need to see. Seoul is absolutely freaking ENORMOUS, and going up to the 120th floor withe the clear floors and floor to ceiling windows definitely puts it into perspective and lets you appreciate it even more. You’ll also get gorgeous views of the Han river, Namsan tower, and the mountains in the distance.

Theres a gift shop, a cafe, a bar and lounge on the 123rd floor, as well as countless photo ops and bean bag chairs so that you can just hang out. I went smack in the middle of the day, but I would definitely save your money and come at dusk, just when the city is starting to light up.

Or, instead of spending the money to go up in the tower, maybe you just want an epic view of it. After all, whats a view of Paris without the Eiffel Tower, you know what I’m saying? In that case, head over to Seoulism cafe, where the rooftop and its SEOUL sign take the cake for views of the lotte world tower. Grab a sangria, admire the stained glass-incense-burning-ornate-mirror vibe of the cafe, and then head up to the roof.

 

Flops

Like I said at the beginning of this article – In addition to listing the best things to do in Seoul, I’m also going to list the things that were cool to see but ultimately the flops that I wouldn’t recommend and that you should potentially eliminate from your itinerary.

First up – Dongdaemun Design Plaza.

 

While I got one singular cool photo, there wasn’t much to do. We tried finding different exhibits (we heard there was a really cool digital art one) but the inside of this building was the most unorganized chaos we’ve ever seen, and we didn’t even spend 30 seconds inside. We walked around, tried and failed to take cool pictures, were disappointed by the sad christmas lights installation, and left. If you stumble upon it – great! If you don’t – don’t go out of your way.

Second on my list is the Iwha Mural village in Itaewon. We hiked up a HILL to find this place, and it took us at least an hour to find even one mural. They were all mediocre at best, and while there was a good view of Seoul from this high up, I wouldn’t waste your breath.

Enjoy this picture of me looking very sad, cold, windblown, and unimpressed but feeling the need to at least take a picture because ya know – the blog lol

The Namdaemun market let me down, as did the Jogyesa Buddhist Temple (if you go during Buddhas birthday, however, it should be at the top of your list! without all the festivity, and thanks to the fact that the lanterns didn’t turn on until 7:30 at night, we left a little disappointed.)

 

I’ll probably make a few more trips back to Seoul during my time here, hopefully during the warmer months where I have more outside options available to me, but for now, these are some of the things I consider to be the best things to do in Seoul.

Seoul is amazing. The culture is so much fun to participate in, from the unique food options, to the cafe community, to the k-pop and the cute EVERYTHING, Korea truly is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been, and I hope you can come and visit too:)

 

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